If you’ve read anything about Emergency Contact by Mary HK Choi you’ve probably read the numerous Rainbow Rowell comparisons and we all know how beloved RR is. The comparisons are well-deserved as this book feels very much like Eleanor & Park and if you have any heart at all, you’ll root for Sam and Penny like you rooted for E & P.
This title is narrated in tandem so we move between Joy Osmanski reading as Penny and Jacques Roy reading as Sam. While it’s interesting to hear the story and each character’s perspective in two distinct voices, it can feel tricky as there are obviously characters who overlap in each of their sections. Hearing supporting characters in both voices, neither of which feel fully-developed, feels like a missed opportunity, but perhaps it’s intentional? The spotlight is on Sam and Penny. If so, maybe it’s OK after all.
Because the book is closer to a character/relationship study than a plot-driven story, don’t expect high drama, dénouements or an explosive finale (many of the book’s haters get stuck on that aspect). Much of what we have here takes place via text/phone calls which lends a slight layer of separation between these narrators/characters, making the development of their relationship even more juicy.
As Sam, Roy’s voice consistently asks you to lean-in as if you’re listening for the moment when he finally reveals the the secret location of your CIA contact rendezvous. I swear that’s what I kept expecting listening to Roy. Admittedly, this partial-whisper does lend itself well to the hesitancy and uncertainty that defines Sam and in that, Roy captures Sam well. But I also didn’t find Roy’s voice adding enough depth to Sam, depth Choi’s writing deftly sculpts.
As we oscillate between these two narrators, there’s an irksome volume issue. The shifts between Osmanski and Roy is consistently jolting. Note: you will need to crank your volume UP for Sam and take it way DOWN for Penny. As low and secretive as Roy’s voice is, Osmanski’s is Gala-apple-crisp, successfully-sarcastic and sardonic and comes through loud and clear.
Yet, these stark voice differences play very well against the clumsiness of their relationship and in those moments, Sam and Penny truly come to life as our two lost, awkward bumbling boy/girl couple-to-be-or-not-to-be. Outside of their Sam and Penny moments, as I previously suggested, Osmanski and Roy struggle to bring the supporting characters alive. Celeste, Penny’s mother and her roommate, Jude are important but they don’t get much chance as individuals here. Though, as Sam and Penny are what we’re really here for, it’s OK if a few characters fade into the distance.
Emergency Contact will keep you listening (and adjusting your volume) as you root for Penny and Sam!
Emergency Contact, by Mary HK Choi read by Joy Osmanski and Jacques Roy. 9 hours and 6 minutes Simon and Schuster Audio, 2018.